NFC East Preseason Grades

DALLAS COWBOYS

Key Acquisitions: WR Allen Hurns, LB Leighton Vander Esch, OT Cameron Fleming, WR Tavon Austin, WR Deonte Thompson, FB Jamize Olawale, DE Kony Ealy, OT/OG Connor Williams, TE Dalton Schultz

Key Losses: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens, OG Jonathan Cooper, CB Orlando Scandrick, RB Alfred Morris, WR Brice Butler, CB Bene Benwikere, LB Kyle Wilber, DE Benson Mayowa, WR Ryan Switzer, FB Keith Smith

Things are never quiet in Dallas, and while the Cowboys didn’t make many flashy moves this spring, change came suddenly in April when two franchise icons with a combined 14 Pro Bowls left in less than a two-week span. Dez Bryant’s departure (via release) was the Cowboys’ choice, but Jason Witten’s retirement caught more than a few by surprise.

What’s left is an offense that must be driven by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, though its stellar front five remains a constant. The O-line got reinforcements in Connor Williams — who could start at left guard — and swing tackle Cameron Fleming, before a record-setting extension for Zack Martin. Receiver and tight end remain a concern, however, with a grab bag of unproven or uninspiring options at both spots. Dallas was probably right to drop out of the Sammy Watkins sweepstakes, but where will the explosive pass plays come from?

The defense lost a few rotation pieces, but much of the same group returns for a unit that quietly ranked eighth in yards and 10th in yards per play last season. First-rounder Leighton Vander Esch should contribute early, but his arrival could be a bad sign for Jaylon Smith’s progress or Sean Lee’s longevity. There are concerns up front, too, as Demarcus Lawrence did not receive the multi-year contract he coveted and starting defensive tackles David Irving (suspension) and Maliek Collins (broken foot) could miss time.

Offseason Grade: C

FLM Take: The Cowboys took care of their O-line, but the skill positions took a hit and few upgrades were made elsewhere.

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Key Acquisitions: RB Saquon Barkley, OT Nate Solder, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Jonathan Stewart, OG Will Hernandez, OG Patrick Omameh, LB Kareem Martin, CB William Gay, WR Cody Latimer, S Michael Thomas, P Riley Dixon, LB Lorenzo Carter, DT B.J. Hill; OLB Connor Barwin

Key Losses: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, OG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, WR Brandon Marshall, LB Devon Kennard, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Ross Cockrell, OG D.J. Fluker, OT Bobby Hart, RB Shane Vereen, WR Dwayne Harris, QB Geno Smith, P Brad Wing

New GM Dave Gettleman certainly doesn’t lack conviction. After concluding that Eli Manning still has a few quality years left, Gettleman went all-in on building the Giants’ offensive line and running game, sparing no expense in the process.

Nate Solder’s record-breaking contract ($15.5 million annually, most in NFL history) is tough to swallow, but if it upgrades both tackle spots — with Ereck Flowers moving to the right side — the Giants’ offense should be much better. Patrick Omameh (signed from the Jaguars) and second-rounder Will Hernandez will boost the interior, which has big shoes to will with Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg out the door. On top of it all, Gettleman bet big on Saquon Barkley while passing on a potential QB of the future. If Odell Beckham Jr. returns to 100 percent, and both sides work out a new long term contract, the pieces for an offensive turnaround are in place.

New York’s defense might need more work. Especially after it traded Jason Pierre-Paul, who had nearly a third of the team’s sacks in 2017. Acquiring Alec Ogletree filled a void in the middle, but pass-rush concerns are warranted, as third-round pick Lorenzo Carter remains very raw as a rusher. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be missed as well, especially with uncertainty about Eli Apple’s reliability.

Offseason Grade: C+

FLM Take: The Giants’ offense should be in for a significant rebound, and a better running game would take pressure off the defense. Still, Gettleman’s approach felt a bit antiquated, and he could rue passing on Sam Darnold.

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Key Acquisitions: DE Michael Bennett, WR Mike Wallace, DT Haloti Ngata, TE Dallas Goedert, TE Richard Rodgers, LB Corey Nelson, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Kamar Aiken, RB Matt Jones

Key Losses: DE Vinny Curry, CB Patrick Robinson, LB Mychal Kendricks, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Brent Celek, TE Trey Burton, WR Torrey Smith, DT Beau Allen, S Corey Graham, P Donnie Jones; LB Paul Worrilow

Many Super Bowl teams get gutted during the ensuing free agency, but the Eagles weathered the storm pretty well, managing to re-sign linebacker Nigel Bradham while letting several rotation players walk. Perhaps the two most talented departures came via release, as Philly let Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks go to save cap space.

While some players walked out the door, GM Howie Roseman wasn’t shy about bringing a few in, restocking a deep defensive line with veterans Michael Bennett (via trade) and Haloti Ngata (free agency). He also replaced Torrey Smith with a cheaper, more versatile deep threat in Mike Wallace, while the duo of Richard Rodgers (free agency) and Dallas Goedert (draft) should offset the losses of Brent Celek and Trey Burton at tight end.

The team navigated its delicate quarterback situation well, extending Nick Foles through 2019 while giving him a nice bonus as thanks for helping the team to a Super Bowl LII title. All signs point to Carson Wentz being cleared from his torn ACL to play in Week 1, which should keep Philadelphia in position to again contend for the Lombardi Trophy.

Outside of Goedert, the Eagles didn’t draft many players who are likely to contribute early, and they were one of only two teams (along with the Titans, who had four) to come away with fewer than six selections.

Offseason Grade: B

FLM Take: Few GMs manage the cap as effectively as Roseman, who did well to keep a Super Bowl-caliber team mostly intact. Here’s a look back at his strategy when taking over for Chip Kelly in 2015.

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Key Acquisitions: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, OLB Pernell McPhee, DT Da’Ron Payne, RB Derrius Guice, CB Orlando Scandrick, QB Kevin Hogan, DT Tim Settle; CB Adonis Alexander

Key Losses: QB Kirk Cousins, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Bashaud Breeland, DE Trent Murphy, C Spencer Long, S DeAngelo Hall, WR Ryan Grant, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Will Compton, OLB Junior Galette, TE Niles Paul

You can criticize Washington for bungling Kirk Cousins’ contract situation in previous offseasons, but the team did the best it could this spring by landing Alex Smith in the QB carousel. Whether or not the cautious but steady signal-caller will fit perfectly in Jay Gruden’s aggressive offense, Washington was smart to grab a stable chair long before the music stopped.

Other than Smith’s extension (four years, $94 million, $71 million guaranteed) and the signing of wideout Paul Richardson (five years, $45 million), Dan Snyder’s wallet took less of a hit than usual, an approach that should yield compensatory picks for Cousins (third-rounder), Spencer Long (fifth), Ryan Grant (sixth) and Terrelle Pryor (sixth) in 2018. Richardson’s health will be key for a thinned out receiving corps, and 2017 sixth-rounder Chase Roullier must step up to replace Long at the pivot. Getting the dynamic Derrius Guice, who could quickly become an offensive centerpiece, late in Round 2 was a coup.

On defense, rookies Da’Ron Payne and Tim Settle could provide a similar boost to a poor run defense, and talented but injury-prone Pernell McPhee was a great buy-low candidate. The team also re-signed linebacker Zach Brown, but major questions remain at cornerback, where Kendall Fuller (part of the package for Smith) and Bashaud Breeland (unsigned) are gone. 2017 third-rounder Fabian Moreau must step up, especially considering Orlando Scandrick’s decline in recent years.

Offseason Grade: B-

FLM Take: It might not bear out in a tough division, but Washington did well to reload despite losing significant talent.

Hopkins wows with nifty catch, leads NFL in yards receiving

HOUSTON (AP) — DeAndre Hopkins has made a lot of great catches in his time with the Houston Texans, but his latest one might be his best.

The 49-yard catch and run that included two nifty spin moves and set up the winning field goal in overtime against Dallas has inspired memes and internet tributes.

HOUSTON (AP) — DeAndre Hopkins has made a lot of great catches in his time with the Houston Texans, but his latest one might be his best.

The 49-yard catch and run that included two nifty spin moves and set up the winning field goal in overtime against Dallas has inspired memes and internet tributes.

It also caused a tough night for Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, whose team visits Houston on Sunday.

“I didn’t sleep much (Sunday) night because of watching that,” he said.

It was the talk of Houston’s locker room this week with everyone from players to coaching raving about the play where he evaded several would-be tacklers to help the Texans to their first win over the Cowboys since 2002.

“It was crazy,” receiver Will Fuller said. “I was right in front of him. I saw the whole thing. I think Hop is the best there is, so just to see that live is just great.”

Hopkins, who was drafted by the Texans in the first round in 2013, said it was probably the best catch of his career.

“I think so because I set my team up for the win,” he said.

Houston’s defenders, especially the team’s defensive backs, watched the play with amazement, thankful that they aren’t tasked with covering the two-time Pro Bowler.

Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu said when a receiver makes moves such as Hopkins did on that play there’s really no way to defend him.

“I don’t think you can stop it,” he said. “At that point it’s just him doing him. He’s going in slow motion, everything is just moving slow for him and it’s tough.”

Hopkins, who signed a five-year, $81 million extension before last season, loved the videos made about his catch and was particularly amused with one that showed him spinning past a ballerina. He said he doesn’t really think about or practice the spin moves, they’re just something that comes naturally in certain situations.

“Just instinctively,” he said. “All it takes is a glance sometimes for you to know where someone is. Playing football for so long, you kind of anticipate the hit like that.”

Coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t as concerned about the flashy aspect of the play as everyone else, but he was pleased to see him add yards to the catch with such a nice run.

“He’s really worked hard over the last five years … (on) running after the catch, and he’s really done a good job of that,” O’Brien said. “I think in the past couple games we’ve had close to 300 yards of yards after catch, and he has a lot of those.”

The only criticism some people had about the play was the security of the ball as Hopkins held onto it with just one hand through part of the run. But Hopkins has such large hands that he insisted that the ball was perfectly secure even when he wasn’t holding onto it with both hands.

“Sometimes me holding it in one hand is stronger than some people holding it with two,” he said.

The play is the highlight of a strong season for Hopkins, who leads the NFL with 594 yards receiving. He’s had three 100-yard games this year and has surpassed the 150-yard mark in each of Houston’s past two games.

Second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson loves playing with Hopkins and enjoyed watching him make that play on Sunday.

“I’m always impressed with the things he does,” Watson said. “He’s a talented guy … he just continues to get better each and every year, but that’s something that he really expects of himself and I expect him to do the same thing.”

And Watson knows that he can always count on Hopkins when the team needs a big play.

“Just give him the opportunity to make a play and he’s going to make that play, and that’s what he did Sunday night,” Watson said.

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Von Miller shoulders blame for Broncos’ skid

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Von Miller has done the math and believes he has the solution.

He's gone three weeks without a sack and the Denver Broncos have gone three games without a win.

"To win," Miller said Thursday, "I've got to get sacks."

Although he's being chipped or double-teamed on most plays and quarterbacks

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Von Miller has done the math and believes he has the solution.

He’s gone three weeks without a sack and the Denver Broncos have gone three games without a win.

“To win,” Miller said Thursday, “I’ve got to get sacks.”

Although he’s being chipped or double-teamed on most plays and quarterbacks are getting their passes off lickety-split, Miller acknowledged he hasn’t beaten tackles 1-on-1 much, either.

“I’ve had opportunities to rush the passer, I just haven’t been able to get home,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s one rep to get there or two reps. That could be two sacks or forced fumbles that I’m not taking advantage of.”

So, Miller said, beginning Sunday when the Broncos (2-3) host the Los Angeles Rams (5-0), he’s taking it upon himself to stop both quarterback Jared Goff and Denver’s skid.

“I’ve just got to run over my guy, run straight through him, put him on his back and just get a sack,” Miller said.

And Miller offered that he hasn’t been playing the run all that great, either, accepting the blame for Denver’s myriad woes, including allowing an eye-popping 323 yards rushing to the Jets last week.

“I can fix that,” Miller said. “I like living in a world where it’s me and the problem is me and the quickest way to fix it is me.”

Miller insisted he’s not shouldering too much of the blame or burden, either, for the Broncos, who have slipped to 7-14 under head coach Vance Joseph .

“Too much what? I’ve got to get sacks. That’s what I do. I’ve got to get sacks,” Miller said. “I’ve gotten 87½ of them. I’ve played games where I got a lot of sacks and I’ve played games where I didn’t get any sacks. I’m going to have a little bit of both going forward.

“It’s just the phase that I’m in right now, and I’ve been here before. I’ve gotten out of it before.”

Miller was held without a sack for the final month of the 2016 season, which cost him in a one-vote loss to Khalil Mack for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors a year after he was the MVP of Super Bowl 50.

Miller also went without a sack in the opener last season, extending his sackless streak to a career-long five games before he corralled Dallas’ Dak Prescott twice in Week 2.

Getting back on the sack track is “No. 1 on my list,” Miller insisted. “It’s the only thing I have to do on the football field. It’s something that I’m pointing the finger at myself and I’ll be able to get it fixed. I’ve just got to get it turned around quick.”

Miller isn’t alone in his misery.

The Broncos have managed just five sacks since dumping Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson a half dozen times in the opener last month, three of them by Miller.

Denver boasts an abundance of edge rushers featuring three first-round draft picks in Miller, Shane Ray and rookie Bradley Chubb.

It’s a defense that’s set up for “getting sacks and getting pressures,” Miller said.

“That’s how I want it to be. I don’t want to be in a defense where we’re playing zone all day and it’s about the corners. I want the defense to be about us, and it is,” Miller said. “I just haven’t been doing my job how I’m supposed to do it. And I’m on it. I’m going to get it fixed.”

At age 29 and in his eighth NFL season, “I’m in my prime,” Miller noted. “I want to take advantage of all the games and all of the opportunities that are out there for me.”

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Giants’ Olivier Vernon active for 1st time this season

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New York Giants linebacker and top pass rusher Olivier Vernon is active for the first time this season.

Vernon missed the first five games with a high ankle sprain, but he is expected to see action Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

New York will be without its top two

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New York Giants linebacker and top pass rusher Olivier Vernon is active for the first time this season.

Vernon missed the first five games with a high ankle sprain, but he is expected to see action Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

New York will be without its top two tight ends. Evan Engram is going to miss his third straight game with a sprained knee. Rhett Ellison is out with a foot injury.

Placekicker Aldrick Rosas is active despite quad problem.

Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson will start despite an ankle injury.

Eagles: LB D.J. Alexander, LB Nathan Gerry, S Corey Graham, T Jordan Mailata, DT Haloti Ngata, G Matt Pryor, RB Darren Sproles.

Giants: Besides Engram and Ellison, WR Russell Shepard, QB Kyle Lauletta, S Kamrin Moore, C Evan Brown and DT John Jenkins.

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Winston’s focus on helping Buccaneers improve on 2-2 start

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — While most of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their bye week to get away from work and relax, Jameis Winston stayed closer to home and continued to prepare for his first start in nearly 10 months.

The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft missed the first three games of

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — While most of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their bye week to get away from work and relax, Jameis Winston stayed closer to home and continued to prepare for his first start in nearly 10 months.

The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft missed the first three games of the season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Winston came off the bench for the second half of a 48-10 loss to the Chicago Bears two weeks ago. On Sunday, he resumes his role as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback against struggling NFC South rival Atlanta.

The fourth-year pro said Thursday he’s both grateful to be back and eager to help the Bucs improve on a 2-2 start.

“I’m thankful I had the support of my teammates and the (organization) throughout the suspension,” said Winston, who was disciplined by the league following an investigation of an accusation that he groped a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016.

“I worked so hard for this opportunity,” to have a NFL career, the quarterback said. “To have it taken away briefly, it can make you reflect on things. Every day is a blessing to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and play this great game. I’ve got to do my best to take advantage of it.”

Winston is taking the reins of the NFL’s top passing attack and No. 2-ranked offense overall, thanks to a record-breaking performance by veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick, who’s played for seven teams during a 14-year career, became the first player in league history to top 400 yards passing in three consecutive games.

The Bucs opened with upsets of New Orleans and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, then were outscored 68-13 in the first half of losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bears, who led 38-3 when Fitzpatrick was benched.

Winston was 16 of 20 for 145 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the second half at Chicago. Sunday’s start will be his first since Dec. 31, when his 39-yard TD pass to Chris Godwin on Tampa Bay’s final offensive play of last season gave the Bucs a 31-24 upset of the Saints.

The Bucs were encouraged by the way Winston played after sitting out three games with a shoulder injury last fall.

One of the knocks on the 24-year-old has been his lack of accuracy on deep throws. However, coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Winston has made strides since returning from the injury that hindered him most of 2017.

“The thing on that is Jameis’ shoulder was worse than we thought it was for a longer period than we thought,” Koetter said.

“Jameis is a competitor and wants to play. We finally rested his shoulder, he threw the ball better, period, after that,” the coach added. “He definitely had to alter some things mechanically in order to play when his shoulder was hurt. He’s not the only quarterback in the league who does that.”

While teammates scattered for the bye week, Winston chose to spend the six-day break doing individual work and getting acclimated to his normal routine.

“I basically did similar things I did the three weeks I was away,” Winston said. “It was kind of an odd place for me to be because I hadn’t played three games. I did get the little experience against Chicago, so I had to stay on it.”

Now that he’s back, Winston and the Bucs don’t see any reason the team shouldn’t continue to be explosive offensively with Winston throwing to a talented group of receivers that includes Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Godwin, as well as tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.

“I’m very confident about that. We have some great (playmakers),” Winston said.

“You started to see more confidence throwing the ball down the field, making those types of throws (late last season),” Monken said Thursday. “That’s carried over from what I’ve seen in the preseason and the last couple of days.”

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FANTASY PLAYS: Starts and sits for a make or break week

After five weeks, fantasy owners of Dalvin Cook and Devonta Freeman are lamenting those draft picks, while those who gambled on Austin Ekeler and Tyler Boyd feel as if their fantasy IQs went up sharply.

Week 6 constitutes a make-or-break moment for a host of players who have yet to live up to their preseason

After five weeks, fantasy owners of Dalvin Cook and Devonta Freeman are lamenting those draft picks, while those who gambled on Austin Ekeler and Tyler Boyd feel as if their fantasy IQs went up sharply.

Week 6 constitutes a make-or-break moment for a host of players who have yet to live up to their preseason projections, along with those labeled as breakouts who are still digging to see the light of the expectations placed among them.

START: Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers: Making his first start of the season, Winston gets a plum matchup against a Falcons secondary that has been strafed for 12 touchdown passes and is 28th in fantasy points allowed per game to opposing quarterbacks. Winston was 16 of 20 for 145 yards and a touchdown after mopping up for Ryan Fitzpatrick in a loss at the Bears. He won’t waste time getting the ball downfield to Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, so plug him in and watch him make up for lost time.

SIT: Jared Goff, QB, Rams: Receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp both remain in concussion protocol and while it’s possible both will play, the matchup at the Broncos is filled with hurdles. Goff has been just OK on the road, averaging a modest 18 fantasy points in his first two road games compared to the 33 PPG he has averaged in three games in Los Angeles. Facing the Denver pass rush is also an issue, but Mother Nature will be the biggest reason to sit Goff, as the forecast Sunday calls for snow flurries and temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s at kickoff.

START: James White, RB, Patriots: Even with Julian Edelman back and Josh Gordon continuing to be added into the flow of the passing game, White remains a great play for the potential Sunday night slugfest against the Chiefs. In the last two games, White has 18 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns and will maintain that type of production against a Kansas City defense that allows seven catches and 90 yards per game to opposing running backs. In PPR formats, White is a borderline RB1 this week.

SIT: Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins: The injuries (ankle, knee, shoulder) are piling up on Peterson, who had only six yards on four carries in the Monday night loss at New Orleans. The Panthers have the sixth-best run defense in the league and it’s unlikely the Redskins will give him a full workload. If Peterson is limited, it will be a mild disappointment for those who’ve used him as a sneaky good pass catcher in PPR formats.

START: Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals: Only the Buccaneers and Saints allow more fantasy points per game to opposing receivers than the Steelers, who can no longer put the bulk of their focus solely on A.J. Green. Boyd has caught nearly 70 percent of his targets and has seven catches of better than 20 yards, making him an excellent WR2 play against a Pittsburgh pass defense that has given up 13 touchdown passes and 21 completions of better than 20 yards.

SIT: Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders: He’s become too inconsistent, drawing only one target in last week’s loss to the Chargers. Whatever the cause of the disconnect between him and quarterback Derek Carr, Cooper’s down-up-down-up-down act is already wearing thin with his fantasy owners. The Seahawks secondary is no longer the feared unit it once was, but they are still ninth in the league in passing yards allowed per game and are second with nine interceptions. Maybe Cooper continues his yo-yo trend, but there’s little motivation to risk a spot in the lineup for it.

START: Chester Rogers, WR, Colts: With T.Y. Hilton doubtful, Rogers again plays the role of top wideout for Indianapolis, who faces a Jets team that is 26th in fantasy points allowed per game to opposing receivers. This should play well for Rogers, who was targeted 11 times in each of the last two games. He has yet to score a touchdown this season yet the high volume of targets from Andrew Luck only increases the chances of him finally visiting the end zone.

SIT: Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers: Yes, he’s slated to play against the Redskins on Sunday. However, there is no indication as to how much he’ll be used. Either way, Olsen will need this game to get back into form. Washington is a modest 17th in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, so there’s no need to feel that Olsen is missing a must-start opportunity. Olsen owners will be best off using this game as a gauge to how far along he is before becoming a viable fantasy starter once again.

START: Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: After failing to throw multiple touchdown passes for the first time this year in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, Dalton will make up for lost chances against the Steelers, who are 31st in fantasy points allowed per game to opposing quarterbacks. Dalton is averaging a solid 23 fantasy points per game and will exceed that number facing a defense that’s allowing 320.4 passing yards and nearly three touchdown passes per contest.

SIT: Dion Lewis, RB, Titans: Since scoring 16 fantasy points in Week 1, Lewis has a combined 15 FP in the last four games. The Titans have been unable to effectively utilize Lewis, who has only 60 rushing yards on 25 attempts over his last three games. Don’t expect those numbers to suddenly trend upward against a Ravens defense that is seventh in the league in rushing yards allowed and has given up only two rushing touchdowns all season.

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Watt’s fast start triggering “Blitzburgh” resurgence

PITTSBURGH (AP) — T.J. Watt is not trying to match his older brother sack for sack. Honest.

It's just sort of happening that way for the second-year Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, whose six quarterback takedowns through the first five weeks of the season have him tied with Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap and Houston Texans star

PITTSBURGH (AP) — T.J. Watt is not trying to match his older brother sack for sack. Honest.

It’s just sort of happening that way for the second-year Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, whose six quarterback takedowns through the first five weeks of the season have him tied with Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt — the oldest of the three Watt brothers in the NFL — for the league lead.

“I can’t get caught up in any of the statistical things,” T.J. Watt said. “I’m sure my mom thinks it’s a lot cooler than I do.”

Connie Watt’s not the only one. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler is pretty impressed too, particularly with the way the 24-year-old Watt has assimilated so quickly. Then again, Butler knows Watt’s unique family dynamic played a role in his rapid adjustment to life in the NFL.

“I think he’s kind of grown up in that atmosphere,” Butler said. “He had a good idea what it took to be successful in the NFL before we got him.”

Watt racked up seven sacks as a rookie in 2017 and appears ready to take a leap forward in 2018. He opened his second season by getting three sacks in Cleveland and added three more in last week’s 41-17 dismantling of Atlanta , including a strip-sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan that teammate L.J. Fort fell on in the end zone for a touchdown.

“We just wanted to show who we really were,” Watt said. “We weren’t proud of the performances we put out in the first few showings of the season, and we just wanted to go out there and show what we’ve been working on for the past few weeks. We just want to show the consistency now.”

That has been something unattainable for the Steelers (2-2-1) through a wildly uneven opening month.

The two-time defending AFC North champions find themselves in an unusual spot heading into Sunday’s visit to Cincinnati (4-1), particularly on defense. Pittsburgh is 29th in yards allowed but also tops the NFL with 19 sacks, on pace to surpass the club record of 56 set a year ago.

Coach Mike Tomlin downplayed the idea the Steelers are blitzing more this season to overcome shaky play by a revamped secondary. Maybe, but Butler is certainly not shy about sending players from all over.

Eight Steelers already have at least one sack. Fort picked up just the third of his six-year career against the Falcons and free-agent signee Jon Bostic’s 2 1-2 are a career high. Butler isn’t trying to read too much into his team’s success creating pressure, perhaps because it has been so spotty.

The week before Pittsburgh’s pass rush harassed and harangued Ryan, it only brought down Baltimore’s Joe Flacco twice in 44 attempts as the Ravens pulled away in the second half.

“Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not,” Butler said. “Sometimes you’re good. Sometimes you’re bad.”

Butler called the key to blitzing successfully a mixture of timing and disguise. Having the right people in the right places certainly helps. Pittsburgh overwhelmed the Falcons on the same day veteran cornerback Joe Haden shut down Atlanta star wide receiver Julio Jones. The Steelers also had nickelback Mike Hilton in the mix after he sat out the Baltimore loss with a right elbow injury.

The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Hilton has carved out a niche as an unlikely enforcer off the edge thanks in part to impeccable timing. Hilton has a preternatural ability to guess the snap count — he proudly points out he’s jumped offside just once in his career — and his quickness and aggressiveness give Butler another option.

“I try to set the tone any way I can,” said Hilton, who had two quarterback hits against Atlanta. “I wouldn’t say guys look up to me, but they see how I play and they’re like, ‘He’s the smallest guy on the field and he’s playing physical and being aggressive.’ It just gives everybody the same energy.”

The key for Pittsburgh is finding a way to sustain it. Watt’s play — massively successful one week, decidedly quiet the next — is symbolic of a unit still rounding into form. He isn’t worried about trying to keep pace with his big brother as much as he is trying to make sure he’s hardly the only one getting to the quarterback.

“I don’t think anyone in this scheme is meant to eat up blocks,” Watt said. “We all have great opportunities. It’s awesome when those guys push the pocket. It allows the quarterback to step back and allows us to get a little wider rushes, and also get the quarterback in our hands.”

And then — Watt and the Steelers hope — on the ground.

NOTES: S Morgan Burnett (groin), LB Fort (ankle) and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (ankle) did not practice and are unlikely to play against the Bengals. … S Terrell Edmunds (ankle) and LB Vince Williams (hamstring) were full participants for a second straight day.

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Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks relieved to avoid suspension

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Defensive end Akiem Hicks takes pride in being a leader for the Chicago Bears' defense.

So an ejection against Tampa Bay on Sept. 30 for making contact with an NFL official during an altercation caused Hicks to reflect, and avoiding suspension left him feeling fortunate.

Hicks was fined $33,425, and

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Defensive end Akiem Hicks takes pride in being a leader for the Chicago Bears’ defense.

So an ejection against Tampa Bay on Sept. 30 for making contact with an NFL official during an altercation caused Hicks to reflect, and avoiding suspension left him feeling fortunate.

Hicks was fined $33,425, and will be available to play Sunday for the Bears (3-1) against the Miami Dolphins (3-2).

“This was the first time I’ve been ejected from a game in my entire life, so for me it was very humbling,” Hicks said. “The next time I’m in that situation it will give me a chance to react better.

“It’s also a lesson to the guys on the team that you don’t put your personal situation above the team’s situation.”

Hicks pushed down judge Mike Carr. The official was attempting to break up a dispute between Bucs guard Ali Marpet and Hicks after Bears safety Eddie Jackson intercepted a pass.

Following the ejection, Hicks went to the sideline and threw his jersey and shoulder pads into the stands and went to an empty locker room.

“There’s no feeling like going into the locker room at halftime, or just before halftime, by yourself,” Hicks said. “You sit in the locker room, it’s just not something you’re accustomed to.

“So it was definitely a relief to not be suspended, but also it was a time for reflection for myself.”

Hicks said his message to teammates after the incident was a simple one: “I wanted them to know how I felt about the situation and how wrong my response was to the situation.”

Hicks hadn’t talked about the incident with media since the ejection occurred.

“I know there are a lot of young guys that look up to me on this team, and it’s hypocritical of me to go out there and do things like that and come back to the locker room and think that everything’s gravy,” Hicks said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Chicago’s defense ranks second in the NFL this season, and is first against the run. Hicks is a major force in the run defense, and last year also led the team in sacks with 8 ½.

“You’re talking about one of the leaders on this defense,” Bears linebacker Khalil Mack said. “Just knowing that he’s going to be out there is going to boost morale for sure.”

Bears coach Matt Nagy was satisfied Hicks had learned a lesson.

“He knew he made a mistake, and that’s not who he is,” Nagy said. “I think his track record shows that.”

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Mahomes, unbeaten Chiefs face tough challenge vs. Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Watching Patrick Mahomes this season has made Tom Brady feel like an old man.

At least old enough to remember a much different era for young NFL quarterbacks.

As a rookie in 2000, Brady remembers being nowhere near seeing the field as a starter.

"I was sitting in the stands, eating

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Watching Patrick Mahomes this season has made Tom Brady feel like an old man.

At least old enough to remember a much different era for young NFL quarterbacks.

As a rookie in 2000, Brady remembers being nowhere near seeing the field as a starter.

“I was sitting in the stands, eating nachos before games. I wasn’t playing,” he joked this week.

Now he looks around at a league in which Mahomes is one of several young quarterbacks in their first or second year starting for teams. Brady also started his second season, but it was hardly the plan as he replaced an injured first stringer, Drew Bledsoe.

“Football was different then,” Brady said. “I think now in some ways pro football is more glorified college football…the transition is a more similar game than it used to be when I first started.”

It’s an atmosphere that has allowed Mahomes, who will be starting for Kansas City when the Chiefs (5-0) visit New England (3-2) on Sunday night, to emerge as the most electrifying quarterback in the NFL this season.

Mahomes leads the NFL with 14 touchdown passes through Week 5 and has won each of his first six NFL starts, dating back to his lone start last season. With a win against the Patriots, Mahomes would become the sixth quarterback since 1970 to win his first seven career starts.

It’s put the second-year Texas Tech product under the microscope in his first year Kansas City’s full-time starter, following the offseason trade of Alex Smith to Washington.

While Mahomes said running the jet sweeps and run-pass option plays he did in college has helped with his transition, he also spent a fair amount of time studying Brady’s approach in New England.

“My coach in college was Kliff Kingsbury, and he actually was a backup for Brady at one point, and so he showed me things that he liked with Tom and his pocket movements and stuff he did within the pocket that I’ve tried to put in my game a little bit,” he said.

While Chiefs coach Andy Reid won’t disparage Smith, he acknowledges Mahomes brings a lot of intangible qualities to their offense. Reid also is cognizant that the season is still young.

The 23-year-old is not a rookie, but he basically is, Reid said.

“He’s going through an NFL season — his first one — and there are all kind of challenges that come with that, and no bigger one than this week,” Reid said.

Here are some things to watch for in Sunday night’s game:

NOT AN UNDERDOG

Despite Kansas City’s unblemished record, the Patriots enter Sunday’s game as a three-point favorite. It’s for good reason. Since 2001, 41 times a team has visited Foxborough with a better record than the Patriots. In those games New England is 30-11.

Since starting the season 1-2, New England has outscored opponents 76-31 over its last two victories, at home vs. Miami and Indianapolis.

MILESTONE WATCH

Brady has an NFL-record 199 career regular-season victories and can become the first quarterback in league history to reach 200 for his career. He enters this week tied with Colts kicker and former teammate Adam Vinatieri for the most career wins in the regular season and playoffs combined with 226.

BRING THE NASTY

The Chiefs’ maligned defense forced Jacksonville into five turnovers last week, not to mention showed a mean streak for the first time all season. Defensive tackle Chris Jones took it a bit too far, getting ejected for throwing an elbow at a Jaguars lineman after a play.

“I don’t even remember what happened,” Jones said with a wry smile. “But we’re not going to let anyone push us around.”

INJURY WOES

The Chiefs signed ex-Browns linebacker Nate Orchard and journeyman Frank Zombo to help with pass-rushing depth. Justin Houston has a hurt hamstring, and fellow pass rushers Dee Ford and Tanoh Kpassagnon have been banged-up, which left only rookie Breeland Speaks available.

“Tanoh will have a chance to play,” Reid said, “but we just have to make sure we are OK in that spot just in case.”

MATCHING WITS

The game features the two winningest active coaches in Bill Belichick (281) and Reid (199); Belichick is 5-2 lifetime against Reid. “I mentioned this before,” Reid said, “when you play good football teams, you love that challenge. You spend a lot of hours doing what we are doing. You love the challenge of it, and I think as players and coaches you cherish those things. It is a neat part of the business.”

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AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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Steelers’ Brown: Lawsuits contain ‘false claims’

 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown said Thursday that claims made against him in two lawsuits he's facing from an alleged incident in April are false.

 

Brown is accused of yelling at security and throwing items from off the balcony of a South Florida apartment. The lawsuits are for "damages in

 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown said Thursday that claims made against him in two lawsuits he’s facing from an alleged incident in April are false.

 

Brown is accused of yelling at security and throwing items from off the balcony of a South Florida apartment. The lawsuits are for “damages in excess of $15,000,” according to ESPN.

 

Brown was not charged following the incident, according to police.

 

“It has now been made public that two lawsuits containing false claims have been filed against me,” Brown told reporters Thursday. “The facts will soon come out that prove my innocence. My focus will remain on football, and I will not let the cases serve as a distraction.”

 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN the league is closely monitoring the situation. The league is not expected to launch a personal-conduct investigation into Brown, according to ESPN.

 

A Steelers spokesman said Tuesday the organization won’t comment on the situation.

 

One of the lawsuits against Brown, 30, was filed by Ophir Sternberg, who alleges that his 22-month-old boy was emotionally traumatized after several of the items thrown during the alleged incident landed near the boy and his grandfather at the pool at The Mansions at Acqualina in Sunny Isle Beach, Fla.

 

The child was “severely traumatized by the incident, crying for hours on end the day it occurred and was unable to sleep that night,” the lawsuit alleges, adding, “The falling objects included two very large vases, estimated to be over three feet each, as well as a large, heavy ottoman and other pieces of furniture.”

 

Brown is filing a motion to dismiss the complaint this week, according to ESPN.

 

Brown is also being sued by the unit’s landlord for damages and breaching the apartment agreement.

 

“The apartment was in shambles,” George A. Minski, the lawyer representing the condo owner, said, according to ESPN. “Mirrors were smashed, tables were destroyed, there were holes and damages to the walls. Countertops were lifted off the deck. The unit is furnished with leather couches and love seats, and there were burn holes and black magic markers. It looked like they had rumbled. We tried to resolve it amicably and it got nowhere so we filed a lawsuit.”

 

Brown has until Oct. 23 to respond to that lawsuit. Either suit can be settled at any time.

 

–Field Level Media

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49ers, Packers look to cut down on turnovers at Lambeau

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Turnovers just might be the most important statistic in football.

Just ask the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.

The 49ers last week had a 33-10 edge in first downs against Arizona but still lost by 10 following five giveaways.

The Packers (2-2-1) almost doubled the Lions in total offense (521-264)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Turnovers just might be the most important statistic in football.

Just ask the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.

The 49ers last week had a 33-10 edge in first downs against Arizona but still lost by 10 following five giveaways.

The Packers (2-2-1) almost doubled the Lions in total offense (521-264) and still lost 31-23 after coughing up three turnovers.

Guess what the Packers will be focusing on in practice as they prepare to host the 49ers at Lambeau Field on Monday night?

“Sometimes that ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t. But you have to create more opportunities,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday. “We’ve created too many giveaway opportunities and we clearly don’t have enough takeaway opportunities.”

A team considered one of the top contenders in the NFC is off to a choppy start. Other than a 22-0 win over Buffalo, the Packers have alternated one bad half with one good one.

The first half has been the problem in three games, which has forced Green Bay to play catch-up. It worked in the season opener, when Aaron Rodgers tossed three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for a 24-23 win over Chicago after falling behind 20-0.

But slow starts have doomed the Packers in losses at Washington and Detroit. Against the Lions last week, the Packers fell behind 24-0 at the half before losing 31-23.

“That’s not how you start games and expect to win, especially against a good opponent. We’ve got to start faster than that,” receiver Davante Adams said after the Detroit loss.

The 49ers (1-4) were sloppier, overshadowing the gaudy stats they put up on offense. They also failed to force a turnover.

“I think we’ve been close to winning. It’s not an excuse. We definitely should have won more games than we have,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We’ve got to find ways to not turn it over and get the ball in the end zone.”

Some other notes and things to watch:

BACKING KICKER

McCarthy offered a vote of confidence for Mason Crosby following the kicker’s awful game against Detroit, going 1 of 5 on field-goal attempts and missing his only extra-point try. Crosby was 10 of 11 on the year before last week, including two 52-yarders in Week 4 against Buffalo. He also missed an extra-point attempt in that game.

“He’s a proven, highly successful kicker, I still believe in him,” McCarthy said. “But he knows it – he has to make those kicks. … So hopefully we’ll learn from it and move on.”

NOT PRIME

The 49ers were expected to be an intriguing team based on a five-game winning streak to end last year with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. That earned them five prime-time games, starting with the trip to Green Bay.

But the Niners are a much less compelling draw with a losing record and Garoppolo out for the season with a knee injury. They already had a game on Oct. 21 against the Rams moved out of prime time and could lose another in December at Seattle as viewers are less interested in watching backup C.J. Beathard than Garoppolo.

“When things are good, you’re on top of the world, people praise you,” Beathard said. “When things are bad, they’ll bash you and you’ve just got to take both of those the same way and not even acknowledge anything on the outside.”

RODGERS’ KNEE

The two-time NFL MVP seems to be moving a little better each week after hurting his left knee in the first half of the season-opening win over the Bears. Rodgers, though, did say he took a shot to the knee early in the Lions game that might require him to keep wearing a brace.

He also had to play last week without injured receivers Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion/hamstring). Allison did at least clear the concussion protocol this week.

The Packers will get a break after the 49ers game with a bye week.

OPEN SCREEN

Shorter is better for Beathard. The 49ers were able to exploit Arizona’s defense with screen passes, with Beathard going 11 for 14 for 130 yards and a TD on throws that didn’t cross the line of scrimmage. His 129.2 passer rating on those passes eclipsed his 60.3 rating on passes beyond the line of scrimmage.

“Screens are always hit or miss,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, you catch them in blitzes. If you can get it off and no one sees the guy you’re screening to, there’s a lot of room to run.”

RUN DOWN

Aaron Jones might be the most explosive option out of the Packers’ crowded backfield, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. But he was limited to seven carries for 40 yards last week as Green Bay played catch-up against Detroit. Jamaal Williams starts the game and is good in pass protection, while Ty Montgomery is a receiving threat out of the backfield.

If the Packers can play with an early lead, they might be able to give the ball more to Jones to run and balance the offense.

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AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this story.

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Brees, Brady make history while rookie QBs make mark

While Drew Brees and Tom Brady continue making history, the rookie quarterbacks are making their mark.

Brees broke Peyton Manning's record for career passing yards on Monday night and Brady became the third quarterback to throw 500 touchdown passes last Thursday night. Brady is 40 TD passes away from passing Manning for first on the

While Drew Brees and Tom Brady continue making history, the rookie quarterbacks are making their mark.

Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record for career passing yards on Monday night and Brady became the third quarterback to throw 500 touchdown passes last Thursday night. Brady is 40 TD passes away from passing Manning for first on the career list. He also is one win away from becoming the first quarterback with 200 regular-season wins.

Arizona’s Josh Rosen, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold did their part to prove the NFL should be in good hands in the future. Each player led his team to victory in Week 5, the first time since the merger that rookie QBs were 4-0 or better in a single week.

Here’s a look inside more numbers going into Week 6:

NO AUTOMATICS: Extra points haven’t been automatic since the NFL moved the conversion back 13 yards from the 2-yard line to the 15 in 2015. But kickers are missing even more attempts this season. Through five weeks, there have been 20 missed extra points. There were 17 in each of the previous two seasons at this point and 18 in 2015.

DESHAUN’S QUEST: Deshaun Watson can become the first quarterback to throw for 375 yards or more in four consecutive games when the Houston Texans host Buffalo. Ryan Fitzpatrick did it in the first three games this season. Brady and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner also had three-game streaks. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles has done it in the past two games.

KIRK’S IMPACT: Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins is the first player in league history to complete at least 30 passes in four consecutive games. Adam Thielen is a recipient of many of those throws. He is the third player with at least 100 yards receiving in each of his team’s first five games to start a season.

GO-TO GUY: Zach Ertz has been Carson Wentz’s go-to receiver since the Eagles quarterback returned from knee surgery. Ertz has at least 10 catches for 100 yards in two straight games. Only four players have ever done it three consecutive weeks.

FREE FOOTBALL: At least one game has reached overtime in each of the first five weeks. That hadn’t happened before. The Browns have played in three OT games already, going 1-1-1.

GREATEST SHOW ON TURF: The Rams are the fifth team to score at least 30 points in each of their first five games to start a season in NFL history. The record is eight held by the 2000 Rams, 2013 Broncos and 2007 Patriots.

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Chiefs using motion, unique formations to create nightmares

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs break huddle and line up in a traditional formation: Patrick Mahomes settles under center, Kareem Hunt is in the backfield, tight end Travis Kelce joins wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the right side, and Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson head to the left.

Then, from a

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs break huddle and line up in a traditional formation: Patrick Mahomes settles under center, Kareem Hunt is in the backfield, tight end Travis Kelce joins wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the right side, and Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson head to the left.

Then, from a defensive perspective, all hell breaks loose.

Mahomes is suddenly dropping into the shotgun, careful he doesn’t run into Hunt, who has moved from the left side to the right. Hill has run all the way across the field and lined up on the right, just as Kelce has raced in the other direction to line up on the left.

The defense thought it had everyone covered. Now, mismatches abound as linebackers try to cover Kelce and safeties are forced to match up with the Chiefs’ speedy wide receivers.

That play against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago wasn’t just a gimmick. That’s standard stuff in the Chiefs’ basic offense, a seemingly seamless melding of Andy Reid’s old-school West Coast system and the new-school spread offenses that have changed the college game.

“That play calling was something I’ve never seen before,” said Jacksonville safety Tashaun Gipson, whose top-ranked defense was torched in a 30-14 loss at Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday.

“I’ve played Andy Reid, and maybe it was the Browns or it was Jacksonville 2016, and he didn’t pull out all the stops,” Gipson said. “But this game plan, man, and I can’t say it enough — and again, I’m not trying to discredit any guys over there — but I’ve never seen a team do that to us consistently.”

In fact, Gipson said, “they had their way with us all game.”

They’ve had their way with just about everybody the first five weeks, piling up a franchise-record 175 points. Mahomes has already thrown for 1,513 yards, shattering the Chiefs mark for five games, and a 300-yard passing game at New England on Sunday would give him a team-record five straight.

Kansas City (5-0) has scored at least 30 points in each of its games.

“If you try to play zone coverage against them, they’ve got the guys to beat zone. They have the guys to beat man. So you have to pick your poison,” Gipson said. “We came here with all this hype, talking about how good we are as a defense, myself included, and we got drug out there. Straight drug.”

What the Chiefs are doing this season is hardly a flash-in-the-pan attack, though. It’s the culmination of years of tinkering, beginning with Brad Childress’ work as “spread game analyst” and incorporating bits of the college-style spread attack to what the Chiefs were doing last season.

But while Alex Smith could pull off run-pass options, or do things in the quarterback-run game, it wasn’t a perfect fit. That came when Mahomes took over as the starter this season.

Mahomes is a product of the Air Raid system, basically a spread offense on steroids. He is accustomed to a flood of targets all over the field, quickly identifying where the matchup problems give the offense an advantage, and delivering the ball so that his playmakers can make things happen.

Plus, Mahomes has the arm strength to make any throw on the field.

“He’s not afraid to let it loose,” Broncos offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “When you have the arm strength that he has, he can fit the ball into those small windows.”

Most of the time, though, the Chiefs are able to give him garage doors.

That’s because they have the personnel to make all those creative formations work. Kelce is athletic enough to line up anywhere on the field, Hunt has excellent hands for a running back, and Hill and Watkins have the speed to beat anyone in a one-on-one matchup.

So, for example, the Chiefs can line up without anyone in the backfield, forcing defenses to change their personnel and alignment. Then the motion games begin, and Kelce or Hill or someone else could end up in the backfield, creating confusion and mismatches.

“There’s not much we can do once we make our call and (Mahomes) comes out in his formation,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “Once he goes empty, he knows what he’s got. That makes it tough.”

Or downright impossible, it sometimes seems.

“Watching Andy for a long time, he always has some neat, cool things,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I don’t know where they come from. He’s in there looking up a lot of stuff because they do some unusual things. Sometimes I’m predicting it came from a high school team, maybe a college team. They know how to spread the field. They know how to run all those jet sweeps and do all the RPOs.”

Shanahan said the foundation remains the West Coast offense, and the Chiefs are still capable of beating teams with basic stuff. Just look at how they’ve put away games late in the fourth quarter, when they’ve leaned on Hunt and some old-fashioned, smash-mouth football.

But none of that catches people’s attention like the flashy stuff.

“Over these last four years or so, they’ve really added an element of the misdirection and stuff. It’s been an issue, not just because of the plays, but the people with the plays,” Shanahan said. “They have the speed at every angle to run those things and really put defenses in a bind.”

NOTES: SS Eric Berry (heel), FS Eric Murray (ankle) and OLBs Justin Houston (hamstring) and Tanoh Kpassagnon (ankle) remained out of practice Thursday. RB Spencer Ware was out for a personal matter.

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Colts search for balance against Darnold, Jets

 

 

Andrew Luck is an ideal model for young quarterbacks like Sam Darnold, but the Indianapolis Colts wouldn't mind adapting an offense similar to the one the New York Jets utilized last week.

 

A pair of teams looking to stay on the fringes of the AFC playoff race will square off Sunday afternoon

 

 

Andrew Luck is an ideal model for young quarterbacks like Sam Darnold, but the Indianapolis Colts wouldn’t mind adapting an offense similar to the one the New York Jets utilized last week.

 

A pair of teams looking to stay on the fringes of the AFC playoff race will square off Sunday afternoon when the Jets host the Colts.

 

The Jets snapped a three-game losing streak last Sunday, when they improved to 2-3 by beating the visiting Denver Broncos, 34-16. The Colts last played Oct. 4, when they fell to 1-4 with a 38-24 loss to the host New England Patriots. New York and Indianapolis are two of six sub-.500 teams in the AFC.

 

Darnold, the youngest starting quarterback in NFL history at age 21, tossed a season-high three touchdown passes against the Broncos but did so on just 22 attempts, one more than the career-low 21 attempts he had against the Detroit Lions in the season opener.

 

Darnold’s effectiveness was as much about maximizing big plays – he tossed touchdowns of 76 and 35 yards to Robby Anderson as well as a 20-yard touchdown to Terrelle Pryor Sr. – as it was the Jets (2-3) setting him up with a dominant running game.

 

Isaiah Crowell set a franchise record by rushing for 219 yards – 77 of which came on a second-quarter touchdown run – as the Jets racked up 323 yards on the ground, just 10 short of the team record.

 

“We got the running game going, then we were able to take some shots and suck them up a little bit,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said.

 

The Colts are emphasizing a short passing game with Luck, who missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury. While Luck is averaging 9.1 yards per completion, which is more than three yards lower than his average in 2016, he is leading the NFL in both pass attempts (245) and completions (163) and averaging a career-high 298.2 yards per game.

 

Of course, if Luck is passing so much, that means the Colts aren’t running the ball. Indianapolis ranks last in the NFL with 20.2 rushing attempts per game. Leading rusher Jordan Wilkins has 44 fewer yards all season than Crowell did on Sunday.

 

Frank Reich, the rookie head coach and former NFL quarterback, knows better than anyone that Luck’s effectiveness will wane if the Colts can’t develop a running game.

 

“Early on in the season we can get away with it because there’s always the threat of the run,” Reich said. “But once you get further into the season and you are one of those teams that’s been determined ‘These guys can’t run the ball,’ then, as the season goes on, they pay less and less respect and the play action pass isn’t as effective and it just snowballs.”

 

The Colts will need to get their running game untracked Sunday, when two of Luck’s targets, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) and tight end Jack Doyle (hip), are expected to be sidelined again.

 

Crowell (ankle) was one of seven Jets who did not practice Wednesday, though he is expected to play Sunday. Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson (quadriceps) and Buster Skrine (concussion) could miss the game.

 

The Colts lead the all-time regular season series, 41-28. Indianapolis won the most recent meeting between the teams on Dec. 5, 2016, when Luck was 22-of-28 with four touchdowns in a 41-10 win over the host Jets.

 

–Field Level Media

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Rams, RB Gurley present big challenges for Broncos

 

 

Todd Gurley II is licking his chops in anticipation of Sunday's matchup with the Denver Broncos.

 

The Los Angeles running back is one of the best in the NFL, and although he hasn't topped 100 rushing yards in the last two games, that could change Sunday when the Rams visit the Broncos

 

 

Todd Gurley II is licking his chops in anticipation of Sunday’s matchup with the Denver Broncos.

 

The Los Angeles running back is one of the best in the NFL, and although he hasn’t topped 100 rushing yards in the last two games, that could change Sunday when the Rams visit the Broncos in Denver.

 

Los Angeles (5-0) has plenty of skill players to attack Denver’s porous defense, but with the forecast calling for temperatures in the 30s and possible snow, it could be prime conditions for running backs. That’s not ideal for a Broncos unit that allowed the New York Jets to rush for 323 yards last week.

 

Gurley, who has rushed for 415 yards and seven touchdowns, might carry a bigger load this week with receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp dealing with concussions suffered in last Sunday’s win at Seattle. Cooks was cleared to go through the walkthrough on Wednesday and both are expected to play against Denver (2-3), coach Sean McVay said.

 

The only other player who didn’t take part in the full practice due to health was kicker Greg Zuerlein, who remains sidelined with a right groin injury. Six other players, including Gurley and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, didn’t practice but their absence was not related to injury.

 

Even if Cooks and Kupp are limited the Rams have receiver Robert Woods. Woods has 29 catches for 415 yards and three touchdowns and has rushed for 75 more yards this season. He is comfortable with the offense and quarterback Jared Goff and isn’t worried about how many targets he gets.

 

“Just play my game, really,” he told The Los Angeles Times of his mindset. “I know the ball will find me. Not do anything abnormal.”

 

The problem for the Broncos is opposing teams have found plenty of holes in their defense. Since keeping Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes in check for a half the defense has fallen apart. The Chiefs put together big drives to pull out a win in Denver, and the Jets racked up 512 yards of offense in a 34-16 win.

 

Three straight losses have questions swirling about head coach Vance Joseph’s job security and the future of defensive coordinator Joe Woods, especially after defensive end Derek Wolfe spoke frankly after the loss in New York.

 

“Something – something much deeper is happening here that I can’t even really understand,” he said. “Obviously, I’m pissed off. We come off a short week, we’re busting our ass, we’re playing hard, practicing hard, lifting hard, doing everything we can to be a good player.

 

“It’s the same (expletive) every week, I’m tired of talking about the same (expletive) the last two years.”

 

Things were expected to be different with Case Keenum taking over at quarterback but he has struggled since throwing three touchdown passes in the opener. He went three games without another TD before getting two against the Jets – one well after the game was out of reach.

 

A win against an undefeated Rams team might ease things for Denver. Los Angeles is a tough matchup when healthy but the Broncos are dealing with injuries.

 

Tackle Jared Veldheer (knee), cornerback Adam Jones (thigh) and safety Darian Stewart (foot) didn’t practice Wednesday and linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee) and tackle Garrett Bolles (right ankle) were limited.

 

Denver will be looking for some magic against the high-powered Rams offense.

 

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Joseph said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s not our first challenge on defense versus an offense like that. We played Kansas City, very similar setup … but we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a nice challenge and no one has stopped them, so it’s our turn to see if we can.”

 

–Field Level Media

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‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye

The post ‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye appeared first on SportsHandle.

Every week, Sports Handle will look at NFL lines, specifically “Lookahead Lines,” to see how they’re moving and why. Lookahead lines are those posted one

The post ‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye appeared first on SportsHandle.

Every week, Sports Handle will look at NFL lines, specifically “Lookahead Lines,” to see how they’re moving and why. Lookahead lines are those posted one week prior to a game or even before the season has begun, as CG Technology does.

By comparing changes between current lines and the numbers hung days earlier, we can get a sense of where recency bias or overreactions are seeping in.

We’ll highlight the significant shifts, look for value and suggest when it’s a good idea to get behind or stay away from certain teams. Here’s a look at the Week NFL 5 line moves and what it means to bettors. (Note: odds indicated based on current numbers at several Las Vegas sportsbooks.)

NFL Week 6 Lookahead and Current Line Moves Show Value on Miami Hosting Chicago; Falcons-Bucs Line Contracts As Atlanta Circles Drain; Faith In Raiders Bottoming Out

nfl week 6 picks bears dolphins lookahead lines

Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins (+3 or especially +3.5)

The Bears come into Week 6 at 3-1 and atop the NFC North standings. Chicago was once 100/1 to win the Super Bowl this summer and are now down to 25/1 at the SuperBook.

Last week the SuperBook had the Dolphins -1. That line was similar to the one CG Technology released in May at Miami -1.5. However, the line has gone up the Bears -3 and Chicago didn’t even play last week.

While people’s perception of the Bears has changed since the season started, the Dolphins are going in the opposite direction. After starting the year 3-0, Miami has lost its last two games to the Patriots and Bengals by at least 10 points. One thing to keep in mind is the Bears have only played one road game this year, a 16-14 win over the Cardinals. The Dolphins beat the Titans 27-20 and the Raiders 28-20 in their two home games.

Miami is coming off a face-melting 27-17 loss to the Bengals after Cincinnati scored 24 fourth quarter points to win by 10, and cover 6.5. This movement spells some value on Miami as the 3-point home dog and especially if you grab an available hook.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5)

This game has seen the biggest line movement after the Falcons got blown out in Pittsburgh last week to drop to 1-4 on the season. The Buccaneers had a bye last week and will be making the switch to Jameis Winston at quarterback.

CG Technology made the Falcons a touchdown favorite back in May. The SuperBook’s early number was similar with the Falcons -6.5 last week. After the Falcons got blown out by the Steelers 41-17 on Sunday, the SuperBook released the line at Atlanta -3.5 and it hasn’t moved off that number as of Wednesday.

There could be some value taking the Falcons here, although they haven’t had much of a home field advantage this year, going 1-2 SU and ATS, and have hemorrhaged 43, 37 and 41 points in their past three contests. 


Seattle Seahawks vs. Oakland Raiders (+3) – London

This game is being played in London and the Seahawks are seeing the line shift their way coming off a home loss to the Rams. The SuperBook made this game a pick ’em last week and then opened Seattle at -3. 

Even though the Seahawks are 2-3, the line says more about how bettors perceive the Raiders. The Jon Gruden era is off to a slow start with Oakland opening the season at 1-4. The Raiders have played three close game but they looked bad in a 26-10 blowout loss to the Chargers last week, while the Seahawks played well against the undefeated Rams, losing 33-31 as a 7-point underdog.

The London games are always tough because theirs no home field edge. The Seahawks look to be a little overvalued when you consider they’re coming off an emotional loss and now have to travel to London. This number looks like it should be closer to the pick it was last week and the -3 is an overreaction to Sunday’s results.


Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (+3)

The Titans are leading the AFC South with a record of 3-2 and the Ravens are coming off a 12-9 loss to the Browns. Despite the Titans’ early season success, the line has gone towards the Ravens on the road.

Last week, the SuperBook had Baltimore -1 on the early lines but even after the Ravens’ loss to the Browns, the number has gone to -3. CG Technology had the Titans a 2.5-point favorite back in May and it can be argued that after five games, Tennessee has exceeded expectations.

The Titans are winning ugly and that kind of style typically doesn’t get the public excited. Tennessee has won both its home games by three points but a 13-12 loss in Buffalo last week is one reason the line went up to three. Losing to the Bills is one way to change the public’s perception of a team.

Note that the Ravens are 1-2 both SU and ATS on the road this season. The Titans are worth a look as one of the most undervalued teams in the NFL, while the average Ravens tend to be overvalued right now.


Also Check Out:

On The Pro Football Handle, Las Vegas-based sports talk voice Matt Perrault and veteran bookmaker Robert Walker of USBookmakingdive into select NFL games, line movements and bookmaker liabilities, plus greater sports betting topics and stories that may have nothing to do with football. Walker has seen it all behind the counter and Perrault the same from behind the microphone, so they’ll have you prepared for anything.

Here’s the NFL Week 6 pod:

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The post ‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye appeared first on SportsHandle.

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Ballin’ on a Budget Week 6 Picks

Welcome back for another stress-filled week of NFL betting. There are a lot of lines to love this week, so let’s get right to it. We’re going to invest the right amount of money on each game this time, since our biggest problem this year has been putting big money on the wrong

Welcome back for another stress-filled week of NFL betting. There are a lot of lines to love this week, so let’s get right to it. We’re going to invest the right amount of money on each game this time, since our biggest problem this year has been putting big money on the wrong games even while picking at a 58 percent clip. Let’s get to it.

Panthers over Redskins (EVEN)

I get it. This is a trap game. Carolina is coming off a last-second win thanks to a 63-yard Graham Gano field goal and the Redskins are coming off a thumping on the road against the Saints on Monday Night Football. It’s in Washington. Trust me, I understand that all signs are pointing toward not betting on Carolina this week. Simply, I don’t care.

The Panthers are just the better football team and when you can get value like this, you take it. Carolina is a one-point road underdog, making them even money to win straight up. There are plenty of reasons not to like this, such as Washington being desperate and at home, but again, Cam Newton and Co. are starting to click and that makes this really good value. The bet: $3 for total payout of $6.

Seahawks -3 vs. Raiders (EVEN)

Here’s another good even money value. This game is being played in London, so it is likely to be a little quirky. Oakland hasn’t been able to muster a pass rush this year (Hmm, I wonder why), so Russell Wilson will have plenty of time to throw. Has the Seattle defense been as good as usual? No, but they’re good enough to contain an inconsistent Derek Carr for 60 minutes.

I’ve liked Seattle most weeks this year and they covered at home against the Rams last week. I think they keep rolling and grab a much-needed win against an inferior team, even if the game is being played across the pond. The bet: $3 for total payout of $6.

Ravens -3 at Titans (-110)

It feels as though I get screwed every time I pick against the Titans this season. They’re just a weird team. The defense is for real, but the offense can’t get out of its own way. Coming off a 13-12 loss to the Bills, they’re going to be hungry at home. Baltimore is going to be hungry too, coming off an overtime loss to the Browns.

To keep pace in the competitive AFC North, this is one Baltimore has to have and with the spread only being a three points, it provides us that much-needed cushion of getting a push if they win by a field goal. This feels like an over correction from odds makers in response to Baltimore’s loss to Cleveland last Sunday and it seems wise to hop on them the week after such a disappointing loss. The bet: $3 for total payout of $5.70.

Patriots -3 vs. Chiefs (-120)

I absolutely love this pick. Kansas City traditionally starts out very strong and then tapers off toward the middle of the season. Especially with a rookie quarterback, even one as talented as Patrick Mahomes, they’re prone to that happening again. For the first time all season, the defense showed up against the Jaguars, so that’s reason to think K.C. may be more complete than originally thought, but it’s just tough to march into Foxborough and march out with a win.

Bill Belichick doesn’t have a stellar defense, but you better believe they’ll have some schemes in place to limit Mahomes’ effectiveness. This should be a close game. When big games are close in Foxborough, the Patriots are rarely on the losing side. Take this one to the bank. The bet: $10 for total of $18.33.

Jaguars-Cowboys OVER 40.5 points (-110)

This over/under is so low, it’s really hard not to take it. I’m relying on the Jaguars to continue their trend of having a good offensive showing every other week. Dallas has shown no signs of life on offense and against a tough Jaguars defense, they could be in for a long day. The biggest thing we’re relying on here is a big day from Jacksonville.

A score like 30-17 sounds about right and that would get us over by a touchdown. It could easily backfire and turn into the disaster that our OVER pick of the Browns’ 12-9 win over the Ravens became last week, but this is one worth taking our chances on. The bet: $2 for total payout of $3.80.

The parlay option: As usual, let’s dream about what we’ll make if all five games hit. This week, with a few EVEN money games being thrown into the mix, it would be a doozy. To be exact, we’d be betting $20 to win $534.40. Fingers crossed for us all. Happy Week 6, the week we shoot into the green.

Jacob Kornhauser is a sports reporter in Southern Oregon covering all sports, including Oregon and Oregon State athletics. He has been a national baseball writer for Bleacher Report and Rant Sports and has written two baseball books. He also specializes in sports betting analysis. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School.

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‘Pro Football Handle’: NFL Week 6 Breakdown, KC-NE, LAR-DEN, Big Total to Look Under

The post ‘Pro Football Handle’: NFL Week 6 Breakdown, KC-NE, LAR-DEN, Big Total to Look Under appeared first on SportsHandle.

On The Pro Football Handle, Las Vegas-based sports talk voice Matt Perrault and veteran bookmaker Robert Walker of USBookmaking dive into select NFL

The post ‘Pro Football Handle’: NFL Week 6 Breakdown, KC-NE, LAR-DEN, Big Total to Look Under appeared first on SportsHandle.

On The Pro Football Handle, Las Vegas-based sports talk voice Matt Perrault and veteran bookmaker Robert Walker of USBookmaking dive into select NFL games, line movements and bookmaker liabilities, plus greater sports betting topics and stories that may have nothing to do with football. Walker has seen it all behind the counter and Perrault the same from behind the microphone, so they’ll have you prepared for anything.

It’s already NFL Week 6! This week the guys have spent some time soaking up the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) floor, some new sports betting products and also a borderline contentious panel that included an MLB and a gaming association executive.

On the gridiron, some home dogs for your consideration,  first international game of the season. And scoring is up 10 percent over last year with another total in the 60s (!!) in the marquee matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs at Foxboro to face the New England Patriots. Giddy up!

Spotify fans go here to listen.  Time codes for the episode follow below. Your feedback is welcome at @sports_handle.

1:18: The show’s on the road from G2E and the MLB is at the to sell its “integrity fee” or rather by rebranding it as a “royalty.” Sports Handle Editor in Chief Brett Smiley jumps on to discuss public perception of the integrity fee/royalty debate.

9:36: The future of retail and mobile wagering and Nevada’s archaic in-person sign up requirement.

19:40: Philadelphia Eagles -3 at N.Y.Giants — Opened -3 Philly, now at -3 even money. Why move the price not the line?

24:33: L.A. Chargers -1 at Cleveland Browns — Home dogs historically do well or at least have “sharp” bettor backing. Chargers are slight favorites or about a pick ‘em game.

28:03: Seattle Seahawks -3 vs Oakland Raiders (London) — How do international games impact bookmaking? Both teams are desperate and it’s a neutral field.

30:43: Jacksonville Jaguars -3 at Dallas Cowboys — The Jags are a juggernaut, but QB Blake Bortles is a singular (and key) fatal flaw.  

33:36: Pittsburgh Steelers +2.5 at Cincinnati Bengals — The public is buying into the changes the Steelers made last week and it’s a “show me” game for Cincy to prove if they are one of the best teams in AFC.

37:17: Chicago Bears -3 at Miami Dolphins: What is Miami? At least the Bears are the better team.

39:02: Totals talk: Rarely do NFL totals exceed 60, and scoring is 10 percent higher than the 2017 season. The guys identify a good under bet.

40:53: Kansas City Chiefs +3.5 at New England Patriots — Will the Brady vs. Mahomes showdown live up to the hype? Maybe take the under…

46:11: Los Angeles Rams -7 at Denver Broncos — Broncos or pass…

Have a profitable Week 6, folks. Follow Perrault on Twitter @sportstalkmatt and Walker @robertusfsports.

Thanks for listening and see you back next week, tell a friend, sign up for our newsletter and also check out our Cover City Podcast, featuring sports bettor Eric Rosenthal.

 
 

Listen to more episodes of ‘Pro Football Handle’: NFL Week 6 Breakdown, KC-NE, LAR-DEN, Big Total to Look Under  on SportsHandle.

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Skins CB Josh Norman: Nothing wrong with being ‘Hollywood’

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — It didn't bother Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman in the least that he was called out for wanting to be a celebrity. Indeed, Norman embraced the critique from a past teammate.

"I've been 'Hollywood,'" Norman said after the team's walkthrough Wednesday. "Ever since I came out of my mama's womb, I've

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — It didn’t bother Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman in the least that he was called out for wanting to be a celebrity. Indeed, Norman embraced the critique from a past teammate.

“I’ve been ‘Hollywood,'” Norman said after the team’s walkthrough Wednesday. “Ever since I came out of my mama’s womb, I’ve been ‘Hollywood.'”

Norman was reacting to comments by former Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall during a radio interview with 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday.

“Josh is, I think, in love with being a celebrity right now and not necessarily being a football player,” said Hall, who retired before this season. “Josh needs to refocus.”

Norman has been a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars,” appeared on as an NFL analyst on Fox Sports and spent time recently working on a new television project.

“I’m totally different from people. And if I’m different and if I feel like I want to do something, I’m going to do that. If you call that ‘Hollywood,’ so be it,” Norman said. “Guess what? I’ll get my check from Hollywood. And I’ll come back and I’ll play ball. That’s just what we do.”

In Washington’s 43-19 loss to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, Norman was benched at the start of the second half by coach Jay Gruden.

The next day, Hall was critical of Norman’s play and said that “Josh probably wasn’t the best fit” for the Redskins defense.

While the celebrity-related barb was brushed aside by Norman, he seemed more upset about the idea that it was Hall who was speaking about him that way.

“I mean, I looked up to D-Hall. I really do. I still do. I mean his kids looked up to me and I looked up to him,” Norman said.

“I’m a hot button,” he added. “If you’re going to press it, you’re going to get something out of it.”

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky aims for repeat after breakout game

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will wear a protective sleeve on his throwing arm again Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Why change up anything when you're hot?

Coming off his biggest game in the NFL with six touchdown passes, Trubisky wants to begin achieving the consistency needed to keep the

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will wear a protective sleeve on his throwing arm again Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Why change up anything when you’re hot?

Coming off his biggest game in the NFL with six touchdown passes, Trubisky wants to begin achieving the consistency needed to keep the Bears (3-1) atop the NFC North.

“It definitely gave me confidence, but I think just looking back on it, it was just like any other win for the Bears,” Trubisky said. “It’s important. We got better that week. I felt like I got better that week in my growth and development.

“And this is a new week to continue to take another step and grow and get better.”

Trubisky had to laugh at fan suggestions that the protective arm sleeve he wore against Tampa Bay had anything to do with his 354-yard passing effort.

“I had a little cut on my arm a few weeks ago, and then it reopened in Arizona on the first drive and was just gushing everywhere,” Trubisky said. “And I didn’t want that to happen, and I covered it up (against Tampa Bay).

“And then you play pretty well, some superstition, call it what you want. I also got a lot of threats (from fans) that I have to wear it. Yeah I’m going to keep it on. We’ll see what the color is, but it feels comfortable, gives me a little more swag or whatever.”

Trubisky’s passer rating vaulted from 77.8 to 101.6 after his big game. Until then, he’d never had more than two touchdown passes in a game. Now he’s had a bye week to move on from the effort.

Bears coach Matt Nagy anticipates Trubisky’s head won’t be turned by one week of success.

“When you have a good game, it naturally gives you confidence,” Nagy said. “What you have to make sure you prevent is making sure that you (don’t) get complacent with that and think it’s just going to happen every week, because it’s not.”

Nagy hopes Trubisky handles it like the Chiefs’ Alex Smith did last year. When Nagy was Chiefs offensive coordinator, Smith went on from a big season-opening win over New England to have a strong, steady year.

“And that’s a veteran quarterback that’s been in the league for a long time and he knows how to handle that,” Nagy said. “So I can use that to help Mitch in these situations. But the best part of all this is I don’t really need to do that, because that’s just who he is.”

Nagy said Trubisky rarely gets his head turned by success or failure anyway, and it apparently affects teammates.

“It’s really impressive,” tight end Trey Burton said. “It’s one of the hardest things to do is focus on the next play, to not get too high or get too low on a past play. He does a great job with that and we all see it.”

It’s one reason Nagy thinks Trubisky shrugged off his early struggles in the new Bears offense.

“So he’s not going to change because he had one good game, he’s going to try to continue to make that a consistent process,” Nagy said.

Trubisky thinks he has a predisposition toward consistency.

“One, I think it’s part of my personality, and then two, it’s kind of like practice — something I’ve done for a really long time, really remain the same person and same emotional level throughout the games,” Trubisky said. “Never get too high, never get too low, being that even-keeled guy, just trying to convey to my teammates I’m always in control.”

If Trubisky needs a reminder of how difficult it can be for a quarterback, he’s getting it from watching game films of the Dolphins this week.

The Tampa Bay defense Trubisky beat badly is ranked last against the pass. But Miami leads the NFL in interceptions with 10, including three by cornerback Xavien Howard.

“Whether it’s opportunistic or skill or whether it’s a combination of both, they’re around the football,” Nagy said. “And to have 10 interceptions in this league, three by Howard, they’re a good football team, a good defense, and they make plays.”

Dealing with success is something Trubisky and the Bears as a team could get used to.

“It’s a whole new, different feeling, and for those of us who were here last year, especially for myself, it’s so much better coming into the building, being excited about going to work, about practicing with these guys,” Trubisky said. “Even in the film room and meetings, everyone is just that much more locked-in and loves what they do and is hungry to get better week after week.

“I guess that’s a byproduct of winning, and it’s something we just want to continue to keep going and keep growing and getting better.”

NOTES: Wide receiver Anthony Miller returned to full participation at practice Wednesday after missing the last game with a dislocated shoulder suffered Sept. 23 against Arizona. … CB Prince Amukamara practiced on a limited basis after missing the Sept. 30 win over Tampa Bay. … G Eric Kush was limited in practice due to a neck injury. … CB Marcus Cooper missed practice due to a pulled hamstring.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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With ‘innate’ accuracy, Cousins delivering for Vikings

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — As Kirk Cousins backpedaled in the pocket with Minnesota on the move late in the first half last week, Adam Thielen broke for the back corner of the end zone.

Cousins had to make an off-balance throw to beat a fast-approaching Michael Bennett, and Thielen had little room left in bounds

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — As Kirk Cousins backpedaled in the pocket with Minnesota on the move late in the first half last week, Adam Thielen broke for the back corner of the end zone.

Cousins had to make an off-balance throw to beat a fast-approaching Michael Bennett, and Thielen had little room left in bounds to secure the catch with two Philadelphia defenders a step behind him.

The ball floated just over the outstretched arm of cornerback Jalen Mills and neatly into Thielen’s hands in time for him to hit both feet on the turf and give the Vikings a two-touchdown lead on Sunday. Mills was flagged for holding to add to the degree of difficulty on the play.

But about one-third of the way through the first season for Cousins in Minnesota the fact that the pass was completed was hardly a surprise.

“He does such a good job of just making it easy on us,” said Thielen, who leads the NFL with 47 receptions and is second with 589 yards. “We just worry about getting open, and he’s almost catching the ball for us. We just have to continue to make sure that we’re doing the little things to be at the right depth and the right timing of things, because it’s so important when you have a guy that’s as talented as him to be in the right spot at the right time.”

With a quickly formed faith in Thielen and the rest of the Vikings receivers, Cousins has repeatedly succeeded in threading pinpoint throws into tight windows with “a little guts and a little bit of arm talent,” as coach Mike Zimmer put it recently.

Cousins ranks fifth in the NFL with a 71.2 percent completion rate that doesn’t tell the full story of his precision. He’s been under pressure as frequently as any of his peers, with 35 hits taken (tied for seventh most in the league) and 14 sacks allowed (11th most) by the Vikings that could easily be more if Cousins didn’t have a quicker release.

The tying touchdown pass to Thielen in the final minute of the fourth quarter at Green Bay on Sept. 16 was the most memorable example to date. Cousins, as he was about to be hit, somehow zipped the ball between two converging defenders into the arms of Thielen for him to fall backward into the end zone while maintaining possession. The Packers couldn’t have covered that much better.

“If it was an inch left or an inch higher or an inch lower it gets knocked down,” Thielen said.

Sometimes, there’s a little luck in play, too.

“If that was a random second down in the middle of the second quarter, I would’ve been like, ‘Hey, that one’s a little tight,'” Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “But if you’re trying to drive down and win the football game, there’s less than a minute to go in the game, those are the chances you have to take.”

Even if the quarterback himself isn’t sure the pass will reach the target.

“It’s a fast game, and if you think you’re going to throw every throw with great vision and a great understanding of where the ball is going, I think you’re fooling yourself,” Cousins said. “There’s a lot of throws that I make, especially last Sunday, where I’m trying to listen to the crowd’s reaction to decide if it was complete or incomplete because I’m looking through peoples’ shins to try to see what happened. That’s the nature of this league.”

There’s no more important trait at this position than being able to consistently put the ball in the right place, even as a youth. In the opening credits for the TV show “Friday Night Lights,” high school quarterback Matt Saracen is shown throwing into a tire hanging in his front yard in fictional Dillon, Texas. For an NFL standout like Cousins, that accuracy was always there. He’s been able to develop and improve it.

“It’s innate. You either have it or you don’t,” Cousins said.

Some of his counterparts who were more runners and scramblers in high school and college have had a harder time with pro-style precision.

“I was actually pretty slow as a kid, wasn’t a great athlete, so I had no choice but to stand in there and find a way to throw the football from the pocket,” he said, “and I think in the long run that’s served me well.”

___

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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